We Do Not Lose Heart, Part 1
2 Corinthians 4:1–6 – 2 Corinthians: A Testimony to Suffering in the Power of God
Ascension (Observed) – June 2, 2019 (am)
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Do you recognize that word? It was taught to Jane and Michael Banks by Mary Poppins so that they would always have something to say even when they didn’t know what to say. They taught it to their father, a London banker, who had no need of it because he always [knew] what to say. But then came the day when he was sacked at work. And he was speechless, until this word came to mind! He said it. And it lifted his spirits. It helped him feel better. It strengthened him with joy to handle the exceedingly hard circumstances that pressed in on him!
So, what does this word mean? Well, that’s actually not so important. The value of this word is discovered not in its definition but in its function. Entirely apart from its meaning, or lack of meaning, it lifts your spirits! It encourages you! It [heartens] you at the hardest of times, and especially so if you sing and dance as you say it, with Mary Poppins!
Such is the way with the human spirit. We’re a species that needs to feel better when we’re sad or struggling. And it’s best if our encouragement comes from items of substance, from words that actually have meaning, or actually change our situation. Surely it would have been better for Mr. Banks if his circumstances had changed, right? Surely he’d have been happier if his job at the bank had been restored that evening, happier than he was as he left singing and dancing and shouting a meaningless word, but jobless! But that’s how it is with us human beings. What we do to help us feel better often has little substance. Or, any substance it does have is all but unrelated to our struggle. Some people do sing and dance and recite meaningless words. Others hit the gym for a good workout. Some go out for a frozen dessert while others stay home and curl up in front of a favorite old movie. And each of these activities can lift our spirits a bit, [hearten] us, even though they have so little to do with our struggle.
Paul begins to enlighten the Corinthians in our passage this morning to what [heartens] him, what enables him to remain encouraged, even when faced with the sorts of sufferings he’s endured. And once again, he’s doing so in order for them to hear and see and follow in his steps. And what he gives them are no empty or meaningless words, nor are they diversionary activities that just help them to cope. He gives them reminders and reassurances of things that are eternally true and always reliable! He’s unveiling for them the encouragement and refreshment this gospel brings into our broken and painful world.
C.4 best comes as a unit, but we’re going to take it in two parts. And the theme statement is: we do not lose heart (1, 16), even though Paul had much more reason than Mr. Banks to do so. Often, so do we. We need this message today! Let’s look at this text under three headings.
Paul’s Perspective on His Ministry – 1-3
Last week (c.3) we talked about the glory of the ministry of the old covenant, delivered to God’s people through Moses with such a profound demonstration of His glory that the Israelites couldn’t gaze at Moses face and live. So, except for when he was talking to God in the tent of meeting or passing along God’s word to the people (Exo.34:34-35), he would put a veil over his face to keep them from feeling God’s judgment.
But this old covenant came with an expiration date. It couldn’t be the final word from God because all it did was establish His standard for all who would live in relationship with Him. But it did nothing to enable them to meet that standard! And there was no way they could meet that standard on their own. Israel offended every point of it while Moses was still on the mountain receiving it from God!
But when the promised new covenant came, it did provide a way for people to be reconciled to God, established in relationship with Him. It provided a way for the veil to be removed—the veil over Moses’ face, the veil over Israel’s heart, even the veil in the Temple concealing the holy of holies, the dwelling place of God! Under the new covenant, God’s dwelling place is with His people! The shining presence of God takes up residence within the hearts of each individual believer (1Co.6:19) and among them collectively as the body of Christ (6:14-7:1).
This ministry of the new covenant, as we we’d expect, came with such glory that it was as though the old covenant had no glory at all (3:10) because it so far exceeds it in glory! (3:9) Old covenant glory was reveal-God’s-standard glory.
New covenant glory is enable-God’s-standard glory! Old covenant glory was show-what’s-required glory. New covenant glory is make-it-happen glory! Old covenant glory was God-please-help-us glory. New covenant glory is God-has-helped-us glory! The new covenant comes with such glory that it not only reconciles to God those who receive it by faith, removing the veil and allowing them to gaze at God’s glory, but it even [transforms] them into [that] same image from one degree of glory to another! (3:18) They don’t just reflect God’s glory, the grow to embody God’s glory!
Paul has been telling the Corinthians that this is what legitimizes his apostleship. The glory of this message proves his authenticity. And it’s also what explains his sufferings, and his willingness to suffer. It explains his [boldness] (3:12) and his confidence (3:4). 4:1 Therefore, he wrote, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. Of course he doesn’t! Why would he? He’s the tip of the spear by which God is penetrating this world with the message of the gospel! He’s the lead voice [proclaiming] that God is keeping His promise to write His law on human hearts and grant them His Spirit! Paul is the one uniquely charged with preaching this message to Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel (Act.9:15). The Holy Spirit is arriving, changing hearts, and revealing God’s glory through this ministry entrusted to Paul and his team. So, 1 … we do not lose heart, he says. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. Why would he need them? We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word like his opponents were doing (Hafemann 176), but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. Paul’s own conscience is clear before God (1:12), now he appeals to the same in his hearers. He invites them to search their own [consciences] before God to discern whether anything he’s saying sounds twisted or untrue.
So, even if some still reject the gospel Paul preaches, it doesn’t reflect negatively on him because the proof of its authenticity is already evident in the changed lives of those who’ve received it. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, he wrote, it is veiled to those who are perishing. It’s evidence that their minds are hardened (3:14) and they’re still in their sin, still under the ministry of death (3:7), the ministry of condemnation (3:9). This is Paul’s own perspective on his ministry.
The Basis for Paul’s Perspective – 4-6
And as he begins to give us the basis for his perspective, he continues on for a moment reflecting on those who are perishing (3). And here is the heart of his message in today’s passage (4): the only way anyone could fail to [see] the gospel is if they’ve been blinded to it! 4 In their case—the case of those who are perishing—the god of this world has blinded the minds of [these] unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light, the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ….
This is one of the clearest statements of what unbelievers are up against that appears in our NT. Eph.2:1 tells us that they’re dead in trespasses and sins. That’s pretty clear too. But here Paul says that the god of this world has blinded their minds (4). This means that [p]eople are not blinded because they choose to renounce the gospel; rather, they choose to renounce the gospel because they are blind. And they are not blind because they choose to be so, but because Satan has made them so (Hafemann 177). So, they’re blind to the light of Christ, and that is not by their own choosing.
So, they remain in the darkness, often forming their own concepts of God there, creating Him in their own image (or really in their own imagination!) as we can so often hear when` people who reject Christ still like to speak of God as though they [know] Him! But what we see here is that Christ, Whose glory is the very light that [shines] forth in the gospel, 4 … is also the image of God, the [visible…] manifestation of [the invisible] God and the embodiment of [His] character (Hafemann 177).
What does this mean? Well, at very least it means that if you don’t [know] Jesus you don’t [know] God. It also means if you won’t [know] Jesus you can’t [know] God, because Jesus is the One in Whom God has made Himself [known] in this world! Adam was made in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:26), but that image was shattered when Adam sinned. But now Christ has come and restored that image among humankind, which qualifies Him to provide both a suitable and a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of all who believe. He becomes guilty of our every infraction of God’s standard, then pays the penalty of our sin, and we are credited with His righteousness as we trust in Him as our Savior. Therein is the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God!
The enemy of God, of our souls, is the one who [blinds] the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of [this] glory. This doesn’t make him equal to God—remember, God is able to remove that [veil]; but only through Christ is it taken away (3:14), and even then only by God (cf. 3:16). This is the major part of what Paul is saying here (4:1-6): that our salvation, the gospel he proclaims, is God’s work not his, and thus is further proof that he’s on assignment from God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. Paul can’t save the Corinthians; he’s just the messenger. And the Corinthians surely can’t save themselves, blind as they are to gospel light. God alone can save. He alone can achieve this miracle! He alone can open their eyes to see the light. And that light is the glory of Jesus Christ the Lord!
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It’s the glory of God that we see in Christ as we gaze, unveiled, at His face. It is in Him alone that we come to [know] God and [behold] His glory! (cf. 3:18) And God has demonstrated beyond the shadow of any doubt that He can indeed dispel the darkness of our blinded minds with the light of the knowledge of [His] glory in the face of Jesus Christ because, when Gen.1:2 [t]he earth was still without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep…, He is the God Who said: 3 … “Let there be light,” and there was light!
What Difference This Makes to Us
So, what difference does this make to us? This God can turn on the [lights]! This God can make us see even in this present darkness! This God can not only show us His glory, but transform us into His glory! This God brings meaning into our lives and reveals the meaning of all He equips us to do in our lives, so simple and seemingly meaningless as it often is!
This God is the One Who makes our lives worth living by satisfying all that we long for most, because He’s the One Who made us to long for it in the first place! We were made in His image, and we aspire to glory because He made us to reflect His glory. This is the God Who can enable us to be satisfied in every circumstance of life—good or bad, hard or easy—because He is the Source of our satisfaction entirely apart from the circumstances. He has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of [His] glory such that it now accompanies us everywhere we go! If we find ourselves unexpectedly without work, like Mr. Banks, the greatness of the glory of this God, complete with all His promises, is right there with us as we go. Our identity in Him is secure, and meaningful, fulfilling, satisfying life can continue right on. If we find ourselves unexpectedly confronted with a lifelong challenge, a debilitating injury or diagnosis, the birth of a child with special needs, the premature passing of a spouse, a career-altering academic failure, our [glorious] and eternal salvation remains unscathed. When we increasingly find ourselves living in a society that seems determined to wipe out every evidence of our faith, and every ray of light that shines forth from our [glorious] God, even then we do not lose heart because He’s the one Who is equipped to remove the [veil] that [blinds] their minds and [keeps] them from seeing the light (4).
In such circumstances and these, and any others that threaten or unsettle us, we can be encouraged, [heartened], by the very truths Paul is preaching here because this ministry of mercy that he begins to unpack here as the basis of his encouragement, well, it belongs to us as well! We have been recipients of it just as he was—all of us who have encountered the glory of God in Christ as Paul did on the road to Damascus. We may not have been interrupted and blinded by a bright light as he was, but through so many different means we, too, have been enabled by God to [see] the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (4). And the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of [His] in the face of Jesus Christ (6).
Do you know this ministry by the mercy of God today? Do you know the encouragement that accompanies you so surely, so reliably in every trial though this [glorious] gospel? You can know it today by embracing the salvation this [glorious] God has offered in Christ, then by looking to Him in every need.
Where do you need to be encouraged by it today?
Let’s now remember and celebrate this salvation He has supplied as we gather at the Lord’s Table.